American Encounters: The Simple Pleasures of Still Life



of an Exhibit

by Laura marie Rivera

Published on June 01, 2015

  • Museum: Crystal Bridges Museum of AMerican Art

  • Visit Date: May, 2015

  • Description:

    American Encounters: The Simple Pleasures of Still Life is the latest installation of a four year collaboration focusing on the history of American art between Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Musee du Louvre, the High Museum of Art and the Terra Foundation of American Art. Each of the four institutions contribute works that then travel to all four places. The installation’s works have never been displayed together previously.

    This exhibit takes place in a niche gallery about hallway through the Museum’s collection. The previous installations have been displayed in other parts of the galleries. While the works in this exhibit are not large, they do take a significant space in the gallery, especially when considering the additional interpretation space that has been dedicated to this exhibit. Before you even see the paintings, you pass through a reflection area that has been completely repurposed into a “Still Life Studio”. Visitors are invited into the space to arrange their own still life using the multitude of provided props. Then encouraged to draw or photograph their creations. And finally asked to share their work by physically displaying it on the wall or sharing it on twitter, Facebook, or instagram with #americanencounters. I truly love the interactive and creative experience being included with the exhibit. I just wish that it could come after you’ve viewed the exhibit instead of before. Of course, the visitor can always come back to this space, but they would have already gone through it before even seeing the works.

    After the unorthodox initiation, the visitor enters the gallery and is faced with the large wall text that briefly explains what a still life is and includes only one sentence about the collaboration between the four institutions. “For centuries, artists have been inspired by everyday things: a bouquet of flowers, an apple, a favorite book, or well-worn pipe… Artists in the United States put their own spin on still-life painting by selecting objects that were typically American.”

    Prominently displayed is a beautiful still life by Martin Johnson Heade, Still Life with Apple Blossoms in a Nautilus Shell. The accompanying label compliments the large wall text by highlighting the truly American aspects of the painting, such as the apple blossoms. And in addition to commenting on the displayed painting, there is an added label with a “Collection Connection”. These Collection Connection labels have been used by Crystal Bridges in several of the more recent Special Exhibits. They have a picture and a little bit of text explaining how the work in the exhibit relates to a specific work from the Permanent Collection. In this case, they are referring to another highlight of the collection: Martin Johnson Heade’s Cattleya Orchid, Two Hummingbirds and a Beetle. This painting would be familiar to the frequent visitors of the Museum but there is also a direction of where to find it for those that don’t already know.

    There are many other beautiful paintings and additional connections to the Permanent Collection. And on the wall behind the works includes another connection that is also a hands on interpretive opportunity: John Baldessari’s In Still Life. The visitor is invited to create their own still life in a digital form, using the work of a Dutch master paired with the digital creativity of a contemporary artist, who just so happens to be featured in the Museum’s Permanent Collection. There are ipads on the wall and you can take the image of the old masters and rearrange them as you please. Of course, you are then able to share them on social media. And you can even download the app to continue the fun after leaving the Museum.

    I feel this exhibit is a success in that the viewer gets to spend a little dedicated time looking at still life paintings, seeing the work of the American artists being highlighted, and is given ample opportunities for creating their own beauty and sharing it with their friends, near and far.

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